One day my sister Tammy called me up out of the blue and said she was thinking about coming to see us, so we made plans for the weekend, and I asked what she wanted to do. She said she didn't care much, and would do whatever me and the kids wanted to do. So, I naturally delegated the decision to the kids, and they decided that they wanted to go camping with Aunt T! Well, a few weeks later, my other sister, Monnie, asked if she could tag along, and I replied, "The more, the merrier!". The kids were SOOO excited to go camping with Aunt T and Auntie M, they could hardly contain their excitement! After the carrier cancelled flight for Tam just a few weeks prior, she called to say she couldn't make it. I put my "finder" hat on, and found a flight for cheap, and sent her the info. Booked! The trip was back on! The kids asked daily, "Dad, when's Aunt T and Auntie M coming?" I would answer in countdown mode, "Three weeks, two days, 3 hours, 6 minutes and 12, no 11, no 10, no 9 seconds!" I would exclaim, fostering their excitement to a higher level each time. Truth be known, I was kinda excited about it myself, I hadn't seen Monnie in almost a year when we were on the Trip of A Lifetime. So, finally Wednesday rolled around when she was supposed to arrive! We had gotten out of church services, and I put them all to bed. My wife was out of town on a job, so I had a friend of ours at church come over to watch the kids while I took a midnight run to the Denver Airport. Left around 9PM and we arrived back home at 12AM. Not too bad, but 5:30 comes early at the Hinton household. Off to bed shortly after midnight, thoughts swimming in my head of all the things that needed to be done before heading out to the campground. I always feel unprepared, and knowing that I am so over-prepared doesn't really help. Case in point....I have SOO much packed that we take with us, I have tried to think and pack for possible scenario in which I could want or need anything for any camping scenario. Yes, I over pack. But not once have I had to go get something that I forgot at home. If we left it, then we must not really need it. All of those thoughts running through my head when it's time to sleep! S T O P I T! Get some sleep!
Rick: Well, I got about 5 hours of sleep before having to wake up to get the kids ready and dropped off at school. I took Monnie around the neighborhood on the way to the school bus stop, and got to show her the deer. We have complete herds that just casually plant themselves in someone's yard and watch the traffic just pass right by. It's one of the reasons we moved to this side of Colorado Springs. While the kids were at school, Monnie and I went to get the camper and get packed up for the trip. We needed to pick up Tammy at the Denver airport at 2, so after we got all packed up and picked up the kids at school early, we headed to the airport. We had to make three trips around the world for her to find the right level.....but she made it in one piece! We would have parked the first time around, but the parking rent-a-cop was staring at me... We high-tailed it back to the house after gorging ourselves at Wendy's with a meal with so much bacon on it (oh that glorious bacon), it would make any red blooded American proud. I think Earl Pitts would have approved.
After making some last minute dashes around the house, we loaded up in the car and took off towards St. Elmo. Now, since we only live about 5 minutes away and Garden of the Gods is truly on our way to our destination, we went through and saw the sights. A quick fill up in Manitou Springs and two ice bags later, we were on our way through Woodland Park, Divide, Flourissant, and Lake George trying to get there before it got too dark. We made it to Hartsel, when some unknown passenger made the announcement that they had to use the facilities (I'm paraphrasing here...). Evidenty, they roll up the sidewalks around the time we pulled in, because we watched the gas station attendant look at us, and then flip the sign to "Sorry, We're Closed". Hmm. Were we that intimidating? We headed back to another store, where a sweet lady was getting ready to close, but offered their facilities for the kids before she left for the day. After a purchase of glow stick necklaces and a million thank you's, we were back on the road. We passed on through the darkness at this point on to the Iron City Campground. Someone already had our favorite spot, but we grabbed another one close by and it was just fine. It was about this time that I discovered the camper keys were mysteriously missing and my sisters watched in amazement as I proceeded to pick the locks to get the access doors open. It's the first thing I ever learned on the web in 1994, so I guess the internet is good for something. We settled in for the night, the sisters wrapped up in their sleeping bags, blankets and jackets because it was supposed to be "cold"! Weenies!
Tammy: Colorado looks pretty flat from the window seat of the airplane at 20,000+ ft in the air. It had been a while since my last visit to Colorado. 30 years to be exact. The only other time I had made the trip was in the back of a pick up truck with a camper that was shared by myself and my baby brother. Admittedly, I didn’t appreciate him NEAR as much as I do now. We both have very vivid and fond memories of that trip, many, many years ago. Monnie was actually a tag along on that trip too, but without a window seat. She was still a few months from being introduced to this world.
I never dreamed then that a date in my far distant future would include all 3 of us trekking through some of the same territory we toured so many years ago!
If you want to really see and experience the beauty of Colorado, don’t bother with the touristy sites. Call Rick. He’s the greatest tour guide EVER and he comes by it honestly. Dad knows the greatest places in Kentucky and Tennessee, and has introduced us to many “scenic” routes over the years. We never get tired of the beauty there either. Rick is a chip off the old block.
Much preparation had already been made by my siblings by the time I landed in Denver. Claire cried when I got in the car at the airport. She wanted me to sit in the middle, right next to her, and of course, I aim to please. We grabbed a Wendy’s burger, but not without having to visit the facilities with my little sidekick. She had apparently left some major “tracks” in her britches from a similar visit at the school facilities earlier in the day. Moving along, we headed back to Colorado Springs to hook up the camper, and head to our evening destination. Garden of the Gods was amazing. Even more amazing is that it is only 3 miles from Rick’s house. The drive toward Buena Vista was beautiful. As it began to get dusk, bladders were beginning to be enlarged. In the middle of nowhere, a little mercantile store appeared and an angel of a lady ushered us in, even though it was right at closing time. Our eyeballs were able to cease their floating.
It was dark, very dark, by the time we made it to the camp site. Rick backed the camper in the spot perfectly. I must say, he is a natural and has always been able to impress me with that skill. But there was an issue with a missing set of keys..... very important keys. It was déjà vu. I recalled another instance from our childhood that was a tense vacation moment involving barrels. This tense moment had a happier ending. Rick was able to pick the locks. Yet another one of his many impressive skills.
As soon as everything was set up, Claire began to cry rather loudly, proclaiming much discomfort with the southern portion of her garments. Remember the “tracks” from earlier in this saga? Monnie and I took over to 1) relieve the child of her misery and 2) prevent the waking of any bears by her volume. Monnie searched the duffel bag for the clean tiny drawls she had packed for the Claire, only to discover she had packed 4 pair for Kaye, and none for Claire. Needless to say, we made do. After locating some dried up baby wipes and re-wetting with some ice cold drinking water, Claire became a happy camper. Literally. The most used quote of the weekend followed from Claire...“I think the POOP was the problem!”
Ahh. All was well. Cold, but well. Why did I bother to bring pajamas? My clothes were much warmer. Nuff said. My position for the night was between Monnie and Kaye. At that particular hour (and the 48 following), there was no place I’d rather be.
Monnie: Everything my brother and sister have said is absolutely true! I am a WEENIE!
Rick: I was rudely awakened in the morning by the a swift kick in the short ribs from my 4 year old daughter, who was trying to kick off the covers because she was "hot". It was 36 degrees outside, shorts weather for us local Colorado folks. Ok, I actually put on a jacket. My sisters were complaining incessantly about the "cold clothing" that they were attempting to put on their body. You see, the night before I very intelligently placed my clothing under my sleeping bag so that it would be nice and um...flat when I got up. I promptly jumped up to make coffee for my siblings, and lit the stove to make the....conditions... more enjoyable for them. They did not show much appreciation for my kindhearted and unselfish actions.... but they did slurp down the awesome cup of coffee I made for each of them, right after destroying it with some horrible flavored white stuff that they said was "required to make it palatable". I still don't understand what they meant, but they retaliated by making some of the most awesome rubber like eggs that the world has ever known. The bacon (oh that glorious bacon!) was awesome though! I mean how can you mess up bacon?!?
After cleaning up, we went into St. Elmo to feed the chipmunks. This was the first place the kids and I had ever camped in Colorado, so the kids found out that Aunt T and Auntie M were coming to camp with us, they wanted them to experience the "feeding of the munks" too! We fed them, and the looked around at some of the improvements that the historical committee had made after getting a grant from the state to repair some of the buildings, it is going to be nice once they finish. We then headed up the mountain to the Mary Murphy Mine, a place we had been before and one that we wanted to share with them. I took the same 4WD trail that we had taken before, but this time it was a little rougher than the last. We were in a Honda Pilot, not exactly the right vehicle for this trail, but hey, you only live once.... We visited the mine, and then went on up the mountain towards Pomeroy Lakes. It really got too rough to continue, so we stopped at 11,782 feet in elevation, which is about 3/4 of a mile from the lakes, and turned around (For those interested, here are the GPS Coordinates of where we stopped: 38.654912, -106.343007). Ok, the part that was "too rough" was my sister Tammy's incessant pleas and total freak out in a way that made me comply. Out of my love for her, we turned around, and on our way back down hit a rock somewhere that made the muffler start....um.....making a funny noise that caused my siblings to now refer to my reliable means of transportation as "the farting Honda".
We made it back to camp, made some "hobo tacos" for dinner, then cleaned up and settled in for the night.
Tammy: I’ve never been one to sleep with my head under the covers. There’s a first time for everything. It was a frigid 36° when we woke up the first morning. As soon as I spoke my first words, Monnie started laughing hysterically. We could see our breath, and this is INSIDE the camper where there are seven bodies contributing heat. I reached for my glasses, but as soon as I put the cold glasses on my warm face, they completely fogged up. I believe there is a picture for documentation.
Did I mention… We forgot to bring pillows?
The concrete out-house down the road was not any warmer, mind you. Rick graciously made our coffee and entertained us with his failed attempts to blow smoke rings with his breath. Once the coffee and bacon was started, things began to warm up enough to move about the camper. Never once did I hear a word from any one of the little people about it being too cold. Oh to be a kid again!
A morning mini hike ensued with me, Auntie M and the kiddos. It was an incredibly beautiful crisp morning and the scenery was absolutely stunning. The sounds of the birds, rushing water, and rustling leaves is purely therapeutic. A tiny house (with a heater of course) perched exactly where the camper sat would be a dream home. The kids lead us through the woods and down to the water with many shouts of “Look!”. They had camped here before and knew exactly where they were going. I think Monnie and I took 100 pictures within a very short distance from where we were camped. Thank goodness film cameras are a thing of the past.
St. Elmo Chipmunks was our first stop. Coolest thing ever. Definitely a highlight for the kids! Monnie and I purchased matching St. Elmo T- shirts (long sleeve, of course) so we could properly portray the touristy image. Mission accomplished.
We took a very scenic drive through the clouds to a rather high elevation - close to 12,000 ft. I’m not sure if I nearly suffered cardiac arrest from the lack of oxygen in the air, or the extreme rough terrain (meant for ATV’s!) had we navigated in the Honda Pilot. Thankfully the only casualty was a muffler. The whole episode brought much tears and laughter.....My tears, and their laughter.
We stopped and feasted on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich somewhere along the way. The fresh loaf of bread turned into crouton status in mere seconds when exposed to the dry air. This said picnic was very near a wooden bridge that had been long since condemned, as ALL wooden bridges should be. I gladly left that site seeing excursion to Rick and Monnie, while the kids and I made more intelligent use of our time together by playing “I Spy”. Claire’s favorite thing to spy was something “green”. Wow.
We actually made it into Buena Vista in search of cheap pillows, and to catch a temporary WiFi signal for our obligatory report to other family members who were left wondering if we had been bear food or not. We sent pictures as fast as we could, making all of them insanely jealous of our travels.
After a tasty dinner of hobo tacos, we donned our fleece attire and retired to the camper. Rick pulled out his guitar and we enjoyed some sibling harmonies while the kiddos colored at the kitchen table. These kids are troopers for sure. They love camping and any other adventures they can find along the way. Most of Corey’s favorite adventures involved water. He loved the well pump, and volunteered to fetch water when needed. He also loved every creek we found. I’m talking an “up close and personal” kind of love for water. Jesse would constantly be heard singing or humming. Kay found a tree she loved to climb and Claire held her own with all of them. There were so many moments that I tried, and ultimately failed, to hold in the laughter when they did or said something that got them in trouble.
The only bad thing about the whole day was that it had to end.
Monnie: Everything my brother and sister have said is absolutely true!
Rick: Sleep? Who needs sleep! HA! Was up most of the night, either telling Jesse to be still and stop shaking the entire camper, covering up Claire to keep her from freezing, or reeling in pain from my hips from the paper thin thing that the manufacturer of this contraption claims as a "mattress". Sleep is sooooo overrated....
Sibling 1 and 2 (not going to tell you which one is #2...) made breakfast inside while I made coffee outside, which was promptly defiled by the plastic white stuff they use. Blech. Pancakes, and more bacon (oh that glorious bacon), then we had to pack up and head back. We went through Salida to Canon City so that we could visit Royal Gorge, both of them wanted to see that before we went back. I'm running out of battery power on my Mac, and can't find a charger, so the rest of the story as they say, will have to wait. Stay tuned!
Tammy: When one has certain health related issues, camping is not always the easiest thing to do. The midnight run to a nearby poor unsuspecting tree, and an early morning emergency exit into the (once again)36° air was an experience. ‘Nuff said.
Yes, once again we awoke to a chilly 36° morning. After my middle of the night and fiasco, I somehow managed to sneak back in the bunk between Kay and Monnie without waking either one. When Monnie decided to arise, she changed out of her flannel pajama pants to head to the concrete slop jar. I took advantage of her warm flannel pants and wore them as a hat. The legs made a nice scarf. I believe there is a picture for documentation. Now you have the explanation.
Bacon and pancakes were on the menu, and my goodness it was so good. Rick had made Tang for breakfast the previous morning, but that supply was depleted and we resorted to milk and coffee this morning. Tang. Just the one word brings back so many cherished childhood memories. Great-grandma, Mary Alice, astronauts .... never mind.
All hands were on deck for clean up and pack up duty. We heated water to wash the breakfast dishes. However, the task did not get completed before the water temperature resembled that of the creek water a few yards away.
Although we were sad this leg of our journey had come to an end, we were excited to see what was in store for the remainder of the day. We headed down the mountain with plans to take a different route back to Colorado Springs and stop in Canon City to see the Royal Gorge. The drive was beautiful. We made it to the Gorge and, of course, there were several hundred people who had the same idea as we did on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. We quickly made another tailgate picnic of sandwiches. This time we upgraded to a choice between peanut butter or ham and cheese.
I’ve been to Royal Gorge twice, but things have changed drastically since that time. I SO wanted Monnie to have a great memory of this particular place too. It’s definitely a tourist trap, and was certainly a disappointment. We had seriously considered doing the zip line together, but it just wasn’t worth it. In true cheapskate fashion, we looked up pictures on the internet instead, and that was the extent of her Royal Gorge site seeing. We did, however, enjoy some interesting selfies. Rick tried very hard to use his height and an extended selfie stick to attempt to capture a peak at the Gorge around one of the buildings. Epic fail.
We spent a few minutes in the gift shop and let the kids shop for their one souvenir of choice within their given budget amount. A whistle? Really? Guess who picked that!! LOL
We hit a couple awesome camping stores in the Springs, and then unanimously decided that Pizza Hut would be our chef for the evening meal.
Because of Rick’s extraordinary organizational skills, we made short work of getting everything unloaded, put away, and laundry started. We cycled four very dirty children through the showers, and then we followed shortly afterwards. After pizza, popcorn and a movie, we called it a night.
After a very enjoyable church service the next morning, the three of us siblings headed to the airport for my flight back to Dallas. Telling the kids bye after Sunday School made me cry. I’m not sure when I will get to see them again, but I don’t plan to make this the only trip to Colorado. Yes, it was a cram packed and short weekend, but it was cram packed with fun, excitement, new adventures, laughter, tears, and most of all an undying and everlasting love shared by family. I realize not everyone has the privilege of saying they love their siblings as much as I do. I’m thankful that God protected Rick when I wanted to choke him so many times when we were growing up. I have enjoyed him SO much more as an adult. He is such a rock and source of strength for me. And Monnie is my confidant, my advisor, my comic relief and most of all, my BEST friend - all rolled in one little package.
The memories we have made this weekend will be added to the plethora of others we have stored up over the years, and they will last forever.
God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.
Monnie: Everything my brother and sister have said is absolutely true!